What’s your 2015 analytics resolution?
In higher education, digital analytics is like exercise.
You know it’s good for you.
You know you should do it more often.
But, you struggle committing to its regular practice.
Yet, the word and experience of your higher ed colleagues fighting the same fight can be so empowering.
That’s why I asked the 12 speakers of the 2015 Higher Ed Analytics Conference (now available on-demand) to share their suggestions on what we should focus on this year.
Hopefully, these recommendations from your peers will allow you to get some discussions started at your school – so, make sure to share them with your colleagues on campus.
1) Focus on YOUR goals – Ted Hattemer (Ohio State University)
This truly depends on institutional goals, and should be directed by where each institution is heading in the next few years.
Here at Ohio State we are on a path to become one of the premiere public research universities in the U.S. Our social media needs to focus on engagement with more thought leaders, our email campaigns need to engage and enlighten donors and potential donors on the impact of giving, and our websites need to refocus by responding to how traffic arrives – organic traffic should be handled differently from social, email and search traffic. Analytics will help narrate the success of each approach.
2) Set up goals – Vanessa Theoharis (Babson College)
For me, 2014 was a year of integration strategy – motivating myself and colleagues to think with an integrated marketing mindset through every project and touch point along our constituents’ decision journeys.
In 2015, analytics should be the backbone of the implementation of integrated marketing programs, and should be used to holistically analyze their success. Specifically in Google Analytics, it is important to consider setting up goals to measure the influence of various channels on key conversion points along the consumer decision journey.
3) Build a measurement framework – Liz Gross (Great Lakes Educational LS)
We need to build the necessary structures to enable efficient measurement of our data.
Whether that’s creating a comprehensive UTM parameter structure for all communication channels, identifying goals in Google Analytics to track success, or enabling event tracking, it’s imperative that we build our data structure to facilitate the necessary analysis. The saying “garbage in, garbage out” rings true—we must ensure that our inputs are designed with analysis in mind.
4) Collect. Share. Repeat – Matt Hames (Colgate University)
Analytics data should be collected on a monthly basis and sent around.
We need to create behaviors in data analytics wherein people think about the data at the front. Most people don’t do that, so it is up to the school to generate that thinking.
Collect. Share. Repeat. Only in doing this will people see the value in it. When Facebook was a burgeoning social network, it emailed us everytime someone posted on the wall. We need to email the data routinely, only then will it become part of the behavior.
5) Communicate results better and reward analytics skills- Stephanie Hatch Leishman (MIT)
Every university has its unique strengths and areas for growth, so I cannot say that there is necessarily one important focus I recommend for all universities. However, I’ll offer two tips for specialists and managers:
1. Specialists: Improve your ability to communicate upward.
This may mean that passing on large analytics reports files will be less effective than interpreting the data and communicating recommendations. It may mean improving your ability to communicate key analytics messages by visualizing data through graphic design.
2. Managers: Include analytics tasks like reporting and evaluation in job descriptions and give staff time for reporting.
In a university setting, communications staff are expected to take on many roles. While holistic communications strategy involves reporting, it is usually lower on the priority list than the content production. A job description might include, “produces alumni newsletter, sends weekly emails, updates website,” but oftentimes, job descriptions leave out “produces monthly reports and makes analytics-based recommendations for improvement.” We are rewarded for what we produce, mail, launch, send, pin on walls, and tweet, but not rewarded enough for reflecting on and evaluating what we’ve done.
6) Teach and preach – Tatjana Salcedo (University of Vermont)
Everyone working on the web can benefit from a basic knowledge of web analytics, not just your institution’s web analytics “expert”.
With so many pieces of data available and an increasing sophistication of website interactions, it’s important to know what kinds of questions analytics can answer and how, on a regular basis, to locate, extract and present that data to a variety of audiences.
Empower those at your institution working on the web to tap into your analytics resources and make it a key part of the web development process.
7) Make decision based on data – Avalee Harlton (York University)
It sounds so simple, but can be such a struggle: let’s focus on making decisions based on data!
That’s not to say we shouldn’t experiment (yay a/b tests!) but keeping tabs on the data that our site(s) collect is so important — it can allow us to better focus our resources and provide information that is actually valuable to our audiences! Since we can now tie all our efforts together, we should! This includes tracking our off-line communications efforts — mail outs / posters / ads / etc.
If something works (be it online or off) — let’s do more; if something doesn’t work, let’s fix it or drop it and move on and try the next idea.
8) Use analytics to tell THE story – Shannan Palma (Emory University)
Mobile and tablet traffic continues to grow exponentially pretty much across the board, so if your website isn’t mobile responsive yet, the first thing I would focus on is gathering the data to make a business case for upgrading.
If you’re already responsive, then on the micro-level, I’d focus on tracking mobile and tablet user activity and adjusting content and site structure as necessary to make sure users are getting where you want them to go as quickly as possible. On the macro-level, I’d make sure that you’re looking at your social data in conjunction with your web data and using both to guide content strategy. Use analytics to tell the integrated big picture story of all your digital outlets and the multiple ways they interact.
If you haven’t read Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture – an oldie, but a goodie – do so now, and start thinking about how his findings apply to all transmedia communications.
9) Start small, make improvement – Todd Gregory (Penn State University)
The concept of incremental improvement.
Quite often stakeholders mistakenly believe the analytics is a golden bullet that will fix all of their problems, and when gigantic change (and of course that’s relative) does not occur they discount the value of the data and move their focus to something else.
We always take the approach of starting small, focusing on a single business objective and try to move the needle a small percentage at a time. We make sure to talk about the impact of multiple incremental gains becoming a significant improvement over time. I’m a big fan of under promising and over delivering and it’s really a small success here and there that gets your stakeholders hooked.
10) Once basics are covered, ask the right questions – Erik Hagen (California Lutheran University)
If you’re still in the beginning stages of using analytics data, then I would say make sure you have the fundamentals covered before moving on or spending money on another tool.
Use campaign tags consistently and wisely to make sure you have clean data to work with. Set up your basic goals. Get a handle on event tracking.
If you’re already more advanced, make sure you’re always asking yourself the important questions: what info do you really need in order to make decisions about what to do differently? There are so many tools and so many kinds of reports, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Stay focused on your main goal and keep digging for relevant data and insights.
11) Focus on the money – Alan Etkin (BCIT)
I think higher ed analytics needs to put greater focus on where the money is for our respective institutions.
Most of the reporting I’ve seen is on the (relatively) easy stuff – page performance, traffic fluctuations, sources, but more value lies precisely where the transactions are made.
The challenge is to get tracking code implemented on your application and registration systems. That’s where we need to spend our time, nurturing relationships and getting leadership buy-in to get this tracking in place. It’s a challenging task, but once you’re there, you’ll have the data you need to deliver exceptional reports and analysis for your institution.
12) Don’t stop at the basics, go further – Joshua Dodson (EKU)
I think that many people are now familiar with the basics of Google Analytics. They look at default reports and the aggregate data (overall sessions, bounce rate, etc.).
To remain competitive, it is important to go beyond that. This includes the need for better segmentation, a look at the multi-channel funnel and assisted conversions, and using statistically significant tests to ensure that the changes that are made will positively impact what is intended.
This does not have to be difficult. It simply requires adding a few tools to the analysis toolbox and thinking in a more strategic way. Making a few changes to how we approach and think about the data can have a huge impact. It will also make the analyst a valuable member of the team and trusted advisor.
So, what’s YOUR suggestion?
Tell us by posting a comment below!
And, if you want to learn more from these higher ed analytics pros, make sure you get a pass for your team for the 2015 Higher Ed Analytics Conference (now available on-demand).